Plot: A history of the Beat from when Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs met at Columbia University in the mid-40s, through their rise to pop culture icon status, to their deaths.
This works fine as an introduction to the Beats and their literature, but in covering fifty years in about ninety minutes, it's a huge shallow pool of a documentary rather than anything a fan of the writers can really sink their teeth into. I know that recordings exist of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs reading pieces of On the Road, Howl, and Naked Lunch respectively, but the makers of this documentary wanted that star power and grabbed Depp, Turturro, and Hopper to do the readings. Not sure how I feel about that, but I have to admit it was pretty cool to see a couple of them really get into the reading. I don't want to mention which two for fear that the other one will stumble upon my blog and have his feelings hurt. Good seeing a really mean and bitter Gregory Corso (my personal favorite Beat poet), Herbert Huncke, the Fugs' Ed Sanders, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Laurence Ferlinghetti, Timothy Leary, and Amiri Baraka. It was especially cool seeing a lot of footage of Beat muse Neil Cassady. Along with the insight from the authors, this is stuffed with a lot of pop culture snippets, an attempt to show the Beats' influence on movies, television, and music as well as art and literature. There was a Lord Buckley spotting (just on a poster), a clip of Groucho, a Tom Waits song, and a little bit of Bob. If nothing else, this movie did make me say, "Hmm. It's been a while since I've read On the Road; maybe I should pull that out," and then later, "I'm going to dig out my Ginsberg discs to hear him read Howl," and then, "Where is my copy of Naked Lunch anyway?"